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Pointless Royal Wedding Observations April 30, 2011

Posted by pacejmiller in Entertainment, Misc, Social/Political Commentary.
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I’m neither a monarchist or a republican, but I just couldn’t bring myself to care about the royal wedding between Prince William and Kate (sorry, Catherine) Middleton yesterday.  I purposely avoided the ceremony live, but couldn’t avoid catching the highlights in the papers and on TV the next morning.

Here are five random, pointless observations from the royal wedding.

5. I have no idea why Ian Thorpe was invited to the royal wedding, but boy has he lost a lot of weight!  Might have something to do with him going broke and having to make a comeback at the London Olympics next year.

4. I’m also not exactly sure why the Beckhams were invited either, but Victoria Beckham’s outfit and facial expression both conveyed funeral more than wedding.

3. I really don’t understand what’s the deal with people camping out on the street for days so they can see the royal car drive by on the wedding day for five seconds.  Why not sit in the comfort of your own home and watch the whole thing from start to finish?

2. Princess Catherine, I must admit, made a marvellous princess.  Regal, elegant, beautiful — she actually seemed right at home.  Nice dress, very royal.  Actually looked a lot like the Aussie Danish Princess Mary.  Same vibe too.  I wonder if she’ll be happy.

1. Prince William — what the heck happened to him?  He had it, then he lost it.

Ahh, I wonder when we’ll have another royal wedding again?

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Movie Review: Fast Five (2011) April 28, 2011

Posted by pacejmiller in Movie Reviews, Reviews.
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Here’s the deal.  I’ve only watched the odd numbered films in the Fast and Furious series (being the original and the third one, Tokyo Drift), and it doesn’t bother me at all that I haven’t seen the other two.

I mean, they’re all the same — fast cars, hot girls and a loose crime plot that involves something no one really cares about.  But this fifth one, Fast Five, looked pretty good.  It has the original stars Vin Diesel and Paul Walker, Jordana Brewster, plus some of the guys from the other films, including Tyrese Gibson, Sung Kang (who died in the third film — the chronology is out of whack), Ludacris, and supermodel Gal Gadot (who literally looks like a smoking hot stick figure).  Most of all, it features Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson as some supercop on their trail and the rumour was that he takes on Vin Diesel in one heck of a meathead showdown.  Sounds like a riot.

To be honest, I don’t really remember the other films of the series I’ve seen, probably because they were forgettable and crap (and I’m not into cars).  Which is why I am shocked to say that I thought Fast Five was pretty good, if you go into it knowing what you’re going to get.

This one has a bit more of a plot (just a bit more).  Paul Walker’s FBI agent dude is now on the run with Jordana Brewster, after having broken Vin Diesel out of a prison van (is it just me or does Vin Diesel look like a big, fat version of Mini-Me on steroids?  Nothing against him but I can’t take him seriously, whether it’s his hilarious voice or his attempts to be cool).  They need cash and some corrupt drug kinpin in South America has a lot of it.  Bingo!  Let’s rob the douche and ride off into the sunset.

Of course, it’s not easy, and in comes a bunch of characters from the previous films to help them pull off the job of the century.  As mentioned earlier, The Rock is brought in to hunt them down, and assisting him is a hot latino police officer played by Elsa Pataky (who is married to Thor‘s Chris Hemsworth).  There’s loads of action in this film — gun fights, chase scenes, heist scenes, hand-to-hand combat, car chases — and most of them were pulled off with expertise from director Justin Lin (who has been at the helm since Tokyo Drift).

It’s all outrageously ridiculous and very little of it makes any sense (it’s one of those films where people just gun each other down in the streets, they blow everything up in sight and people punch the living daylights out of each other without even getting a bruise) — but if you can put all of that aside and just go along for the ride, Fast Five is an enjoyable treat that’s fun, cheesy and a car lover’s wet dream.  The only thing I will say is don’t get your hopes up for the Diesel/Rock showdown — unless you like watching two all-beef patties tackling each other through walls and windows for a couple of minutes.

This is not saying much, but I think Fast Five could very well be the best one in the franchise.

3.25 stars out of 5

PS: Upon further review, it appears I’ve seen the fourth film as well, Fast and Furious.  There you go.  It’s not often that I don’t recall anything about a film I’ve seen.

PPS: Remember to stay after the credits — there is a little ‘twist’ scene with Eva Mendes (who is apparently in the second film) that gives you a decent indication of what the next film will be about.

Observations on ‘New China’: Part IV – Top 3 April 28, 2011

Posted by pacejmiller in China, Travel.
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The Shanghai Skyline

It’s been over a month since my visit to China, and my observations are starting to slip from my memory.  So before I forget everything, here are the top 3 from my short visit.

Counting down in reverse order…

3. Oncoming traffic

Child urination is no big deal really, but when I was in Hangzhou, I saw something that impressed me so much that I forgot to take my camera out.

We were driving along in a taxi around West Lake, and there was this kid, probably around six or seven, with his pants around his ankles and shooting a powerful stream of urine.  The thing is, this kid was not facing the rows of trees or the brick wall behind him — he was standing on the side of the curb and pissing towards the main road at the oncoming traffic.

A woman on a scooter had to swerve to avoid getting hit head on.

2. Avoiding the rain

Another incident I forgot to document with my camera because I was too stunned.  We were walking near the Four Seasons Hotel to check out some well-preserved traditional Shanghainese streets when it started raining.

As I was grabbing my umbrella out of my bag, I saw a couple of middle aged women also take something out to shield them from the rain.  First I thought they were plastic bags, but upon closer inspection I realised they were shower caps.  That’s right, they wore shower caps in the rain.

1. Both ends

And the number one observation of ‘New China’…was actually something I didn’t personally observe.  We went into this five star hotel in Shanghai with a travel agent annexed to the lobby to buy some train tickets for Hangzhou (actually a bad idea — just get them at the station, cheaper and more flexible).

My wife went to the ladies and came out with a stunned expression.  A woman was in the cubicle, sitting on the toilet with the door wide open (quite normal)…and she was eating a bento box.  Amazingly, she was consuming and depositing at the same time.  When she was done, she washed the utensils in the basin.  Talk about efficiency.

Book Review: ‘Hell Has Harbour Views’ by Richard Beasley April 26, 2011

Posted by pacejmiller in Book Reviews, Reviews.
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I’m still trying to power through my lists of books, especially the list that will supposedly assist me in writing my novel.  Naturally, given my novel will revolve around an office, one of the books on that list is Richard Beasley’s Hell Has Harbour Views.  It’s a book that a lot of people in Australia (especially in legal circles) have heard of, but not nearly as many have read.  It was also made into a TV movie starring Matt Day and Lisa McCune.

In a nutshell, Hell Has Harbour Views tells the story of Hugh Walker, a 30-something associate at Rottman Maughan and Nash, described as the ‘greatest law firm in the universe’.  Of course, it’s a horrible firm that acts for large corporations and tramples underdogs, with grotesque partners, billing fraud, sex scandals and dick vibes all around.  Hugh despises the place and the people, but he realizes he is slowly becoming one of them.  Later, he finds himself caught in the middle of a partner feud, and must decide if he should continue selling his soul or put an end to the suffering once and for all.

If that sounds like a story you might have heard of before, that’s because it is.  Hell Has Harbour Views is actually a very formulaic coming-of-age story where the protagonist rises to great heights only to undergo a character transformation and realise that the things he thought he wanted weren’t the things he wanted all along.

To be honest, I was disappointed.  Hell Has Harbour Views was described on the front cover by John Birmingham (author of the awesome He Died with a Felafel in His Hand, which I only just read recently) as ‘The funniest most utterably savage lawyer joke ever!’, and was described on the back cover as a ‘biting, witty, very funny tale’.

Given those lofty expectations, I was surprised when I didn’t find the book very funny at all.  Sure, there were a few clever references and lines here and there that brought out a smile, but never a laugh or even a chuckle.  It felt more like a straight-up observation of big-firm culture with a mild comedic slant, as opposed to the other way around.  It was a satire that didn’t really feel like one.

I think the biggest problems I had with the book were that it took itself too seriously and the overly moralistic tone.  It couldn’t decide whether it wanted to be a farcical comedy or a serious story about morality and the pitfalls of working in a large law firm.  I think it did a much better job of being the latter.

Hugh was this guy that thought being a lawyer would be a cross between To Kill a Mocking Bird and The Practice.  His mother was a legal aid lawyer that earned peanuts but at least she was helping people.  He once worked at a small firm that helped underdogs rather than screw them over, but went over to the dark side for the money and the glamorous lifestyle from working at ‘Rotten Mean and Nasty’ (which is how he describes the firm).  While Hugh’s torn emotions undoubtedly reflect what thousands of lawyers around the globe must feel, when you put it in a book that’s supposed to be a comedy it just comes across as a little contrived.

2 out of 5

PS: Could this less than favourable review stem from the fact that, being a former lawyer, I don’t find the characters or what they get up to particularly shocking (and hence funny)?  Perhaps.  Probably.  The book’s success suggests that most people don’t share my views.  In any case, Richard Beasley ought to be commended for at least completing a project as difficult as this one, which is more than I can say for myself.

Movie Review: Thor (2011) April 25, 2011

Posted by pacejmiller in Movie Reviews, Reviews.
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Thor was one of those movies that had me intrigued as soon as it was announced.  Of all the superhero premises, this one had ‘disaster’ written all over it more than any other.  A magical hammer, the God of Thunder, guys dressed in shiny armour fighting blue giants that can turn things into ice.  Not exactly the type of material that you’d think would make a good, (at least) semi-serious film set partially on present-day Earth.

But then enter director Kenneth Branagh (you know, the guy that does all the Shakespeare stuff), throw in Aussie Chris Hemsworth (probably best known by non-Aussies as Kirk’s dad in the Star Trek reboot), Academy Award winners Natalie Portman and Anthony Hopkins, and all of a sudden the film starts having potential.  Could they make this farcical premise work?

Well, yeah, they did.  About as well as I could have imagined.

Thor, like the other successful Marvel adaptations (especially the first Iron Man), is great fun, a rollicking good time.  It’s visually spectacular, with tremendous action, a likable protagonist and occasional laughs that hit the right spot.

Chris Hemsworth really buffed up for this role and does a solid job as the charming titular character, ensuring certain stardom for years to come.  Natalie Portman’s role is largely limited to ‘intelligent love interest’, but she’s always nice to look at and have around.  And when you have the likes of Anthony Hopkins, Stellan Skarsgard and Rene Russo in supporting roles, you know things can’t be too bad.

Considering how badly things could have turned out, Thor was almost a minor miracle.  While it is certainly not perfect, I found myself taking all the ‘other worldly stuff’ seriously enough to be laughing along with the movie as opposed to laughing at it.  It was slightly uneven at times, given the contrast between Thor’s supernatural world of Asgard (reminded me of a futuristic Clash of the Titans-type place) and some ordinary small town in New Mexico, but for the most part it worked.

On the other hand, while Branagh is no doubt very capable in creating drama, I did find some of the fight scenes a little lacking.  Interestingly, it was the scenes that featured only actors and no special effects that worked best — the action scenes that relied heavily on CGI, probably because of the way they were shot (too many cuts), didn’t quite pack the same punch.

That said, I was impressed with how Branagh allowed Thor to be a part of the Marvel universe (in light of the upcoming The Avengers film) while giving the film its own voice and style.  Pulling off a film like this where the supernatural and science co-exist peacefully was no mean feat.  This was a terrific introduction to a character that I’ll be happy to see again when The Avengers is finally released in May 2012.

3.5 stars out of 5

PS: I saw this film in 2D, but it was bloody hard to find a cinema and a session that did not screen the film in 3D only.  Ridiculous.  Spare a thought for the people who don’t want to waste their money on 3D!

PPS: Look out for Jeremy Renner in an extended cameo.  I was surprised to see him but after some research it looks like he’ll be a key figure in The Avengers film.

PPPS: Make sure you stay until after the credits — there is a scene with Samuel L Jackson at the end which could potentially be relevant for The Avengers or a Thor sequel.

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